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Drug Abuse & Vitamin Deficiency

By Helen Messina

Drug abuse harms your body in two ways: the drug's effect on the body itself and the bad eating habits and poor diet that accompany the lifestyle. People with alcohol or drug dependency who don't eat adequately are at risk for undernutrition. Undernutrition with drug abuse also occurs as a result of nutrient loss with diarrhea, kidney failure and gastrointestinal bleeding. As nourishment is increasingly neglected and replaced by drugs or alcohol, absorption and metabolism of nutrients is progressively impaired.

Types of Drugs

Depressants relax and sedate the body's nervous system. Narcotics, such as morphine and heroin, hypnotics or sleep aids, and the anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines are all depressants. Stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine, Ecstasy and PCP. Hallucinogens, marijuana, psilocybin or "magic mushrooms," and LSD alter the brain's perception of reality. Alcohol is the most commonly abused of all drugs. A variety of nutritional deficits occur when these substances are misused and abused.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

The effects of alcohol and drug dependency on body organs result in the malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, calcium and iron. Liver disease impairs storage of vitamins A and interferes with the metabolism of protein and glucose. Kidney damage and those on dialysis are prone to protein, iron and vitamin D deficiencies. Bacteria in the small intestine form vitamin K, which is necessary for normal blood clotting. Side effects of alcohol and substance abuse cause diarrhea and reduce bacterial action, leading to bleeding disorders.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins include C and B vitamins. Your body does not store these vitamins and vomiting and diarrhea associated with drug abuse, as well as undernutrition, can leave you dangerously deficient. Korsakoff's syndrome results from deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B-1, caused by chronic alcoholism. The syndrome leads to loss of recent memories and is fatal if untreated. Low niacin levels cause pellegra and severe depression, while deficits of folic acid lead to anemia and birth defects in babies. Vitamin B-12 and folic acid, necessary for red blood cell production, risk depletion as a result of vomiting and diarrhea.


Minerals are divided into two groups. Macrominerals are nutrients needed by the body in large amounts and include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Water is a macronutrient as well and many with drug dependencies are in a constant state of dehydration. Microminerals, though needed in smaller amounts, are just as vital to the body. Iron, zinc, copper, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, iodine and flouride are the microminerals. Except for fluoride, all of these minerals activate enzymes required in metabolism.

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